Reference Service: Information is recorded in a variety of documents like books, reports, periodicals, digests, theses, standards, patents and so on. A reader may need a specific type of information for a specific purpose. The number of documents produced is very large, so it is impossible for the reader to keep track of its variety and location. Users, often spend much time in locating information required by them. After making a lot of efforts, users sometimes fail to retrieve information due to lack of proper search strategy or not having the subject knowledge in the field. Therefore assistance is required by the users for getting required information from the library. For providing personal assistance a service was developed which was termed as reference service.
The term reference services can be defined as personal assistance provided by trained personnel to library users seeking information. Bunge and Bopp4 noted that such personal assistance is the essence of reference services and is the fundamental role of the reference librarian. The goal of the reference librarian is to meet the information needs of the users. How and to what extent this is done varies from library to library and depends on the type of library. The reference service was defined by Dr. S.R Ranganathan, as “reference service is a personal service to each reader in helping him to find the documents answering his interest at the moment pin pointedly, exhaustively and expeditiously”. In his view, providing reference service means making contact between the right user and the right book at the right time and in the right personal way.
Margaret Hutchins described the term reference service as “Reference service includes direct personal aid, within a library, to persons in search of information whatever purpose, and also various library activities especially aimed at making information as easily available as possible”.
Origin and Development of Reference Service:
As a major component of library services, reference services have constantly developed as the library itself, moving from the traditional, to automated, to hybrid, and eventually to digital. Historically, libraries have been described as the ‘storehouse of knowledge’ and been organized along traditional and functional lines of acquisition, cataloguing and loan services. The invention of printing in the mid-15th century, the wide distribution of books by the 16th century, the growth of literacy among middle classes in the 17th and 18th centuries and the 19th century’s mass education movement increased both the amount of the demand for information. As early as the mid 18th century, people were complaining there simply was too much to read.
➢ Reference service arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in response to several forces and trends, including:
➢ An increase in the number and variety of information resources available in libraries and outside, > An increase in the complexity of those information resources,
➢ These increases (above) combined together made it more difficult for people to find the resource they were looking for, and to find the information they needed within that resource, and
➢ An increase in the number and diversity of people using libraries (particularly public libraries), leading to a wider range of information needs, inquiries, and sophistication in the search for information.
Historians usually trace modern concepts of reference work to Samuel Green’s 1876 paper, ‘Personal relations between librarians and readers’, published in the American Library Journal. He invented the idea of reference service for library users, he was the first to speak publicly about the concept and was the first to discuss it in writing. In both his speech to the first meeting of the American Library Association and his article, Green discussed the need for librarians actively to assist members of their communities in using library resources. While the term ‘reference’ did not evolve until several decades later, the publication of Green’s article helped to popularized the new concept of reference service. In his article Green (1876) introduced four main functions of the reference librarian which remain as the basic tenets of reference service today:
➢ Instructs patrons how to use the library
➢ Answers patron queries
➢ Aids the patron in selecting resources
➢ Promotes the library within the community
According to Rothstein, in United States, “the very notion of reference service goes back no further than 1875”. Thus in advanced countries like USA, the concept of reference service has developed during the last 100 years or so. But in countries like India, the concept developed much later.
In USA, it was in the public libraries that reference service was developed first because they were supposed to justify the expenditure of city funds. It was considered that a program of personal assistance could lead to greater use of library making it possible to get greater support from the authorities. By the end of the 19th century, specialized reference staff began to be employed in large public libraries and provisions of reference service was considered an important responsibility. Now in the United Sates, reference Service is regarded as the most important services provided by any library, big or small. In year 1930, reference service in India was adopted by Madras University Library. In 1937, a post designated as “reference librarian” was accepted at Madras University Library.
Reference Service Process:
Reference services traditionally have been offered by a person at a designated desk within the library building, over the telephone, and through correspondence. The reference librarian handles all types of queries, from directional questions to in-depth research. The role of the reference librarian is primarily to answer patron questions and secondarily to provide readers advisory services. Important parts of a reference service according to Chowdhury and Chowdhury13 the reference interview, which involves a personal discussion between a user and reference librarian. Through the interview the reference librarian tries to understand the specific information needs of the user as well as collects background information about him or her particularly on the individual’s subject knowledge and the reason for searching for the information.
After proper understanding of question, the reference librarian begins his search from in-house sources, and then if the information available is not adequate, searches external sources and finally collects the required information wherever available. During the search process or at the end of the search, the reference librarian should establish dialogue for seeking more clarifications about the relevance of the search results to the user’s query. In case the user cannot provide background information on the subject, the reference librarian may consult encyclopedias, handbooks, text-books, Internet sources or any other relevant source.
Original Research Article:
- Khan, M. A. (2013). IPR in India and USA: Its impact on library services. Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/10603/40586